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Magazine Week 2008 – review

Now that the dust has settled on Magazine Week, what is the final assessment? Jim Bilton, the project manager for Magazine Week 2008, reviews the event – its aims, its activities and its conclusions.

Jim Bilton

Posted on: 01 January 2009

Sometimes you just wish you were somewhere else, don’t you? A national consumer poll on the most iconic cover of all time, the bedrock of the whole of Magazine Week, had been trailed repeatedly across the media and even on prime-time TV. With minutes to go before a golden Dalek was due to appear at the WHSmith bookstall at Victoria Station as part of the public unveiling of the winner, we were in a Network Rail office debating whether the correct forms had been signed to allow the event to take place at all. Earth, open up!

The Dalek event did take place! Just as Magazine Week itself took place. Yet both had the odd challenge along the way!

The first hurdle for the whole Magazine Week project was trying to convince competing publishers to work together at a time when promotional budgets were under massive pressure. Secondly, the complexity of the whole programme was a challenge in itself, particularly when it was run on such a tight budget. With a total spend of under £120,000, it was significantly less than many publishers spend on a single, covermounted promotional issue. So, how did it all go? Did it work? Is it worth repeating?

What is Magazine Week?

Magazine Week was envisaged by PPA as an annual celebration of what makes the magazine medium unique. Its promotional focus was on the end reader, with the objective of stimulating trial of additional magazines among existing magazine buyers. Its operational rationale was to defend and develop magazine space in-store through broad-based retail initiatives. It was recognised early on that these goals were so ambitious that they had to be built up progressively over several years…

* In 2007, PPA undertook a pilot of Magazine Week which was essentially a collection of disparate retail schemes pulled together under a single banner.
* In 2008, the aim was to build a stronger consumer hook and to link that into more focused retail activity.
* In the future, the target should be to add an overarching consumer promotion, such as a national prize draw or competition, which pulls both the consumer and retail activity more closely together.

What actually happened?

The week was built around four main streams of activity:

* Consumer engagement activity, principally the Great Cover Debate and Magazines Live, but supplemented with two subsidiary polls.
* In-store retail promotions.
* Subscription promotions undertaken by individual publishers, but backed up by some centrally organised "retail" schemes. For example, the online subscription shop iSUBSCRiBE saw its sales jump by 42% during Magazine Week.
* Promotions and activity with the advertising community; an area which definitely has the potential to be developed in the future.

These streams were supported by a PR campaign, both consumer and trade, and by a dedicated Magazine Week website which held a directory of magazines and a range of digital magazine samplers.

The Great Cover Debate was an online poll where the magazine reading public were asked to vote for the most iconic magazine cover of all time from a shortlist created by leading magazine editors who had nominated a cover which meant a lot to them personally. Over 10,600 votes were cast in the poll – a conversion rate of 37% of people visiting the Magazine Week website. The publicity surrounding the poll was huge and included major TV coverage: there were an estimated 113m opportunities-to-see with a rate card PR value of £2.1m. In addition, over 35,000 digital magazine samplers were downloaded from the Magazine Week website.

Magazines Live was a series of in-store events including stand-up comedy, live music, meet-the-editor sessions, hobby masterclasses and tutorials, children’s reading workshops and even crocodile wrestling in one shop! The aim was to bring the magazine racks alive and to put publishers and editors face to face with their readers. This year, the programme was hosted by Borders with 246 events during the week. The quality of the events varied (for a variety of reasons!) and there were many lessons about what works and what doesn’t in-store. Yet the overall impact was powerful.

All these activities did three things. Firstly, they engaged consumers in magazine-related activities. Secondly, they provided the core material for the PR activity. Thirdly, they involved publishers and editors in the Magazine Week activity – one of the most difficult tasks and one which will take several years to achieve fully.

Behind all the consumer facing activity, there was a range of in-store retail promotions with displays and sales mechanics themed around the "Indulge Your Passion. Buy another magazine today" message. The box (below) details some of the retail highpoints, but the core was a Buy One Get One Half Price promotion organised and funded by Borders – the first time that a category-wide scheme of this kind has ever been mounted in the magazine business. Borders’ own data shows a 50% lift in sales during Magazine Week. In fact, all the key multiples, including Tesco and WHSmith, who put their weight behind the promotion, saw their sales rise by more than the national retail average, as they grew their market share. Active independent retailers also saw sales increases more than double those of the general independent sector.

So how did it all go?

It was agreed right at the outset that it was completely unrealistic to expect to see a measurable sales uplift across the whole magazine industry as a result of this year’s Magazine Week activity. So, the key measures were the engagement levels of consumers, retailers and publishers.

* Independent research proved that the activity had definitely registered on the consumer’s radar. In 2007, 9.5% of UK adults were aware of Magazine Week activity; in 2008, this figure jumped to 21%, and was actually 23% among the core market – current magazine readers. The number of consumers who intended to increase their magazine consumption as a result of Magazine Week jumped by 87% year on year. Ironically, only 5% of "aware" consumers claimed to have heard of Magazine Week through a print magazine; it was online and TV which drove the PR coverage, so there is a real challenge here for the industry in the future!

* On the retail side, sales data proves that those retailers who actively participated in Magazine Week saw their market share grow. Yet perhaps the strongest feedback is that all the major retailers want Magazine Week to continue and to get bigger in future years.

* Looking at the publishing community itself, the number of titles participating this year and the depth of activity was much greater in 2008 than in 2007. Also, real inroads were made into engaging editors – an area that the 2007 activity simply did not touch. Yet participation is still very dependent on individual champions within each company.

What are the learnings for the future?

There are lots of detailed learnings about what works and what doesn’t in terms of promotional activity. A constantly recurring theme in the feedback, especially from retailers, is the need for longer lead times. Also, there must be a much tighter link between consumer activity and in-store promotions in the future. There should be a strong educational message to future activity. An unexpected role of Magazine Week has been to trial ideas which individual publishers have gone on to tweak and use themselves. In addition, more publishing staff have been brought to the real cutting edge where the consumer reacts with their magazines at the point of purchase, whether that is in a shop, online or in other routes to market. And that is challenging and a scary place to be!

Yet perhaps the biggest lesson is that Magazine Week must be allowed to build progressively over a period of years in order to engage more of the publishing industry more deeply.

Magazine Week will never be the "silver bullet" to boost a soft magazine market. Yet it can be part of a considered, strategic and long-term approach to growing a medium which fascinates the consumer, but which looks too sprawling and diverse to the outsider to have any real shape or identity. That is what Magazine Week is really all about.

Retail Activity Highlights

* 13 retail multiple groups plus 5,500 selected independent retailers actively supported Magazine Week. These retailers accounted for over 80% of the total magazine industry’s RSV.
* Over £200,000 of free promotional space was donated by leading multiple retailers.
* 220,000 consumer leaflets were distributed to retailers (both multiple and independent). The leaflets promoted the home delivery and shop saves of magazines with a prize draw awarding 20 digital cameras.
* 66,000 shelftalkers were distributed to retailers in addition to the in-store signage which many retail multiples created themselves.
* Poster and shelftalker packs were distributed to 5,500 selected independent retailers.
* A special display competition for independent retailers was managed by the three multiple wholesalers, promoted regularly by Retail Newsagent magazine with an award made at the PPA Magsell conference.
* A number of multiple retailers mounted their own in-store activities (eg. WHSmith giving away publisher-provided goodie-bags in selected outlets to customers buying more than one magazine).
* Poster promotion in Canary Wharf to back independent retailer activity in the area.
* 54,000 Magazine Week branded copies of the Magazine Distribution Book were distributed to every retailer in the UK.
* Buy One Get One Half Price at Borders – the first ever category wide, money-off magazine promotion in the UK (funded by Borders).
* Magazines Live ("Magazine Week at Borders") – a national programme of in-store events aimed at bringing the magazine racks to life.
* Announcement of TGCD winner at WHSmith Victoria – bridging the consumer PR and retail activity.
* Activity in WHSmith focused on high-profile "store dressing" in its top 10 High Street and top 10 Travel stores.
* Tesco ran a ‘buy two receive 100 points’ offer for its Clubcard customers on a range of 12 titles and gave 75 free Clubcard points to customers spending £3 or more on magazines.
* Co-op initiatives included magazine value packs, tear-off discount vouchers, website offers, a ‘text and win’ holiday competition and in-store radio advertisements in celebration of the week.

About Jim Bilton
(Details last updated: 15 May 2012)

Jim Bilton is the managing director of media consultancy, Wessenden Marketing, and of BrandLab, a specialist research agency which focuses on how and why people consume media. Jim also publishes the newsletter, Wessenden Briefing.

Tel: 01483 421 690

Email: Send a message to this author

Website: www.wessenden.com

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